In this season of political turmoil and tactics, the United States’ presidential election is at the fore. This November, a mere three months from now, the American people will choose a new one. How much will he or she as president make over the course of a year? Is the job worth that salary? Would you do it for that amount?
Titles & Duties
The President of the United States is often said to be the leader of the free world. He is usually referred to as the Commander in Chief or the Chief Executive, but there is a lot more expected. Presidential duties and obligations are vast, spanning up to seven areas of responsibility.
- Chief Legislator
The President oversees the legislation process by putting either his signature or a veto onto a bill that has been passed by both houses of Congress. The veto is given to the President in Article I, Section 7 of our Constitution. When the veto is applied, the law does not go into effect unless both the Senate and House of Representatives goes back into their respective chambers and then pass the bill by a two-thirds majority in each house.
The President is also expected to have influence over Congress, urging them to consider and pass bills favorable to the welfare of the nation as his administration sees it while suggesting that they do not pass bills that he believes are contrary to that.
- Commander- in-Chief
The President’s role with the military is outlined in Article II. While only Congress may declare war, the President directs troop placements and strategies. The President may deploy troops to trouble spots for up to 60 days without Congressional authorization.
- Chief Diplomat
Working through the State Department, it is the President’s job to make sure all Americans in foreign countries are safe and ensures the safety of foreign nationals visiting here.
The diplomatic work of negotiating treaties resides with the President (with the Senate’s oversight). The Secretary of State may be the one going overseas to sit down with representatives of another nation, but he is discussing and negotiating on the President’s behalf according to his direction.
The President also has a role in determining when the United States will recognize a new nation. When there was an uprising in Turkey earlier this summer, much was made around the world as to what leaders in the world, especially the President of the United States, would recognize as the true government and leadership of Turkey if the coup had succeeded.
- Chief Executive
In this role, the President makes sure the nation’s laws are executed. He can also issue limited executive orders under this role.
He is also the ultimate executive adminstrator over the nation’s 4 million employees (including the military). The President makes appointments to his cabinet, appoints ambassadors and other public officials on the federal level, as well as federal judges, including members of the Supreme Court.
- Chief of State
While other nations have kings or queens, the United States is represented in these manners by the President. He performs these tasks when he welcomes a visiting dignitary to the White House, be it a fellow president, prime minister, or ambassador.
As a symbol of our nation, the President awards distinctions like the Medal of Honor. In the same role, he addresses the people at times of celebration or distress. For example, the President gives a customary address on July 4 commemorating our nation’s independence, and he speaks to the people when a tragedy occurs, like recent terrorist incidents here and around the world.
Presidential Perks: The house.
- Chief Economist
No president can directly control the nation’s economy, but it is his job to propose and implement policies that are supportive of a growing one. He meets with economists, labor leaders, manufacturers, bankers, and investors regularly to receive input from their perspectives that will help him decide what changes in economic policy might be needed. He will then propose legislation to Congress, as appropriate, to enact these changes.
- Chief of Party
Lastly, the President is the head of his political party. It is up to him to help senators and representatives to Congress in his party to get elected, as well as governors and, eventually, his own successor. He also brings the best and brightest of his party into his cabinet and other appointed positions.
Presidential Perks: The car and the jet.
I have a confession to make. Just the other night while watching the political convention, my son asked if I knew how much the President makes. True story – I answered confidently, $200,000. He had a strange look on his face, perhaps from being a little uncomfortable with telling his mother she’s wrong. Somehow, I had missed the latest salary increase (more on that shortly). And it’s not like it happened recently – it was in 2001!
In 1789, our first President received $25,000 annually for the pleasure of serving his country. By 1873, this had doubled to $50,000. In 1909, the President’s income rose to $75,000.
Other increases followed. In 1949, the salary was $100,000, and in 1969 it rose to $200,000 per year. The most recent increase (2001) brought the current annual salary for the President of the United States of America is $400,000.
On the face of it, you might think that the 44th president is making a lot more money than the 1st one did. That’s not entirely true. Remember our old friend, inflation?
In 1909, President William Howard Taft, our nation’s 27th president, earned $100,000. That salary had the buying power equivalent of $1,896,098.46 in 2016 dollars.
The value of the President’s salary has shrunk significantly since it was last adjusted upwards. To keep pace with inflation, that $400,000 salary set in 2001 would be $539,315.64. That’s a loss of more than 25% in real value.
There are a few perks that come with the job, and these might make living on that meager salary a little easier.
First and most noticeably, the President gets to live in a really nice house with a full household and gardening staff on the premises. According to Zillow, the monthly rent on the White House would be about $2 million. That’s not bad for a 55,000 square foot home situated on 18 acres of prime land near the nation’s Capitol with 16 bedrooms and 35 baths. Plus, he gets to work from home most of the time.
There are other perks, too, like a private jet, helicopter, super-secure limousine, and the best personal security force anyone could ask for in the Secret Service. Plus, you eat really well and get the absolute best seats ever at any entertainment or sporting event you have a chance to attend. That’s not many or often, but when it happens, the President gets the choice seat. Then again, you can have the entertainment come to you.
You also get to take a break now and then at the private Presidential Retreat at lovely Camp David, Maryland. It’s perfect for a family weekend plus has all the requisite facilities to host weddings (1992), G8 Summits (2012), and historic peace accords (1978). Every president since FDR has slept here along with notables like Winston Churchill Margaret Thatcher, and of course, Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
Presidential Perks: The private retreat. (Inset: the Obamas having a water pistol fight there in 2011.)
Were we to take a quick stab at finding a Chief Executive Officer of a major corporation that oversees the same number of employees and assets that the President does, we would be hard pressed to find an example.
Bank of America has about 150,000 employees. Its assets are approximately $2.2 trillion. Chairman and CEO of Bank of America, Kenneth D. Lewis, had a salary of $1.5 million with a total compensation package of $24.8 million in 2007. Bank of America’s Chief Financial Officer earned $800,000 with total compensation of $6.5 million.
The President of the United States ultimately oversees about 4 million civil and military employees. The total assets of the United States are wild-guess estimated at $225 trillion, and that figures does not include property owned by state, local, or federal governments, financial institutions, or foreigners.
There is no direct comparison, of course. Serving as President is an act of service. A man (or woman) does not put their name in the hat for the office of the presidency for the money to be made.
Prior to 1959, former presidents were on their own. Since then, however, past presidents receive an annual salary plus Secret Service protection for the rest of their lives. The first president to receive the pension was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Today, the salary is $199,700. It is the same as that of current members of the cabinet and will adjust accordingly. If the former president was a member of Congress before being elected to the executive office, he can receive that salary, too.
There are four living past presidents today: Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Each has his own presidential library as part of the retirement package, plus franking privileges for life.
So, are you up to it? Would you take all that responsibility and pressure for less than half a million dollars a year? How much salary would you want to do it? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!